Say “No” to reformism

(This was going to be part of this post but, laziness.)

The other strand of political implications thought(*) that I took away from the film "No" was about the relationship between means and ends. It’s a classic anarchist obsession but I’m nothing if not classy, so here we go. (This one genuinely does include a massive spoiler as to how the film plays out, so break here.)

As I mentioned before, García Bernal’s character is an advertising executive heavily involved in strategising the "no" campaign’s message, which wins by presenting a positive, hopeful face to a Pinochet-less Chile. A film presenting the top-down approach succeeding in winning the election could make the film politically offensive to the mass struggles and collective action against Pinochet and other South American dictatorships. However, there’s an ambivalence in the events and character’s response to the victory which makes it a much more complex and interesting film.

On election night, the No campaign’s HQ is surrounded by the army, the results trickle in slowly, there is tension. The campaign realises that they have won only when army withdraws and the TV news shows Army generals on their way into a crisis meeting with Pinochet. When one of those generals states the (hitherto secret) results to a camera, the No campaign realise: Pinochet is finished, they’re telling him to go.

Not the people, the generals.

Most of the campaigners are ecstatic, not our hero, he appears to be in shock. The alienation he’s shown that whole night (since being caught up in a police attack on a rally in the previous scene) is now up front. He walks past the "head" of the campaign claiming personal credit in a live interview and out into the street. Only when his son gets his attention does he look happy at the result.

Why the long face? I think he’s realised that their (his) depoliticised approach has won a battle against dictatorship but retreated from the wider war for social justice that his estranged wife is committed to. The wrap-up scenes show that Chile’s next president was a figure from the Right, Pinochet and the army machinery remained in place and there was no change in the economic policies that people were suffering under. Most damningly, García Bernal goes back to work at his advertising agency alongside the boss who had run the "Yes" campaign; the boss is still in charge, GGB is back to hocking telenovelas using helicopter stunts.

The same propaganda tricks he used to help topple Pinochet are used to keep the rest of the status quo in place. By removing the politics from the message Chile enters "post-ideological" times but in fact the struggle to de-juntaise(**) Chile wasn’t complete for at least another 25 years. The film’s willingness to show this saves it from liberal cheerleading.

I said last week that class struggle is a turn off; but it has to be the core of our politics. There’s nothing wrong with reforms, especially ones that bring about improvements in our conditions(**) but as anarchists we recognise that there has to be more than the piecemeal ameliorations that the State can snatch back when it has the upper hand. Fighting for reforms is important, but how we fight (using libertarian methods, empowering the class as a whole, "prefiguratively") is at least as important.

(*) It’s like Mao-Zedong Thought, but wobblier)

(**) No longer being at risk of getting thrown out of a helicopter: wicked good reform.